Social media is the new platform for free speech and expressing one’s opinions. The latest news breaks out on social media and is often used by political parties to propagate their parties during the elections. Hashtag (#)is the new weapon, a powerful hashtag that goes a long way in making an impact in society that so at a global level. Various hashtags have gained popularity in the last years, such as – #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #pride, #cybersecurity, and many more, which were influential in spreading awareness among the people regarding various social issues and taboos, which then were removed from multiple cultures. Social media is strengthened by social media influencers who are famous personalities with a massive following as they create regular content that the users consume and share with their friends. Social media is all about the message and its speed, and hence issues like misinformation and disinformation are widespread on nearly all social media platforms, so the influencers play a keen role in making sure the content on social media is in compliance with its community and privacy guidelines.
The Department of Consumer Affairs under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution released a guide, ‘Endorsements Know-hows!’ for celebrities, influencers, and virtual influencers on social media platforms, The guide aims to ensure that individuals do not mislead their audiences when endorsing products or services and that they are in compliance with the Consumer Protection Act and any associated rules or guidelines. Advertisements are no longer limited to traditional media like print, television, or radio, with the increasing reach of digital platforms and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there has been a rise in the influence of virtual influencers, celebrities, and social media influencers. This has led to an increased risk of consumers being misled by advertisements and unfair trade practices by these individuals on social media platforms. Endorsements must be made in simple, clear language, and terms such as “advertisement,” “sponsored,” or “paid promotion” can be used. They should not endorse any product or service and service in which they have done due diligence or that they have not personally used or experienced. The Act established guidelines for protecting consumers from unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements. The Department of Consumer Affairs published Guidelines for prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022, on 9th June 2022. These guidelines outline the criteria for valid advertisements and the responsibilities of manufacturers, service providers, advertisers, and advertising agencies. These guidelines also touched upon celebrities and endorsers. It states that misleading advertisements in any form, format, or medium are prohibited by law.
The guidelines apply to social media influencers as well as virtual avatars promoting products and services online. The disclosures should be easy to notice in post descriptions, where you can usually find hashtags or links. It should also be prominent enough to be noticeable in the content,
The new guidelines will bring about uniformity in social media content in respect of privacy and the opinions of different people. The primary issue being addressed is misinformation, which was at its peak during the Covid-19 pandemic and impacted millions of people worldwide. The aspect of digital literacy and digital etiquette is a fundamental art of social media ethics, and hence social media influencers and celebrities can go a long way in spreading awareness about the same among common people and regular social media users. The increasing threats of cybercrimes and various exploitations over cyberspace can be eradicated with the help of efficient awareness and education among the youth and the vulnerable population, and the influencers can easily do the same, so its time that the influencers understand their responsibility of leading the masses online and create a healthy secure cyber ecosystem. Failing to follow the guidelines will make social media influencers liable for a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. In the case of repeated offenders, the penalty can go up to Rs 50 lakh.
The size of the social media influencer market in India in 2022 was $157 million. It could reach as much as $345 million by 2025. Indian advertising industry’s self-regulatory body Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), shared that Influencer violations comprise almost 30% of ads taken up by ASCI, hence this legal backing for disclosure requirements is a welcome step. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs had been in touch with ASCI to review the various global guidelines on influencers. The social media guidelines from Clairfirnia and San Fransisco share the same basis, and hence guidelines inspired by different countries will allow the user and the influencer to understand the global perspective and work towards securing the bigger picture. As we know that cyberspace has no geographical boundaries and limitations; hence now is the time to think beyond conventional borders and start contributing towards securing and safeguarding global cyberspace.